New York teacher unjustly suspended returns to the classroom with help from the Liberty Justice Center

September 21, 2021

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KINGSTON, N.Y. (Sept. 21, 2021) – A teacher who was placed on leave for recommending a video which encouraged young people to do their best and not to depend on others, is returning to her teaching role after help from the Liberty Justice Center. The nonprofit law firm committed to protecting constitutional rights represented Debra Tampone and achieved a victory for free speech, ending her suspension by Kingston City School District.

“Every American citizen has a right to express his or her views and to engage in conversation about real issues without fear of retribution, retaliation, or in this case, the threat of job loss,” said Jeffrey Schwab, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “We are happy that Debra’s rights have been restored and she is back the classroom where she belongs. We will fight for teachers and other workers who are asked to surrender their First Amendment rights in order to keep their jobs.”

Debora Tampone is an art teacher for the Kingston City School District in upstate New York. Like many teachers, she tries to instill more than just art skills in her students: she also works to develop their character and foster a spirit of inquiry within them. For Black History Month, she recommended a video by Dr. Carol Swain for her students to watch. In the video, Swain tells the story of how, as an African American woman born in poverty in rural Virginia, she managed to overcome the challenges she faced and succeed in life through hard work and good decision making. The video was not an assignment and was offered as an optional source of inspiration for her students.

For simply sharing an inspirational message, Tampone was placed on leave. Like many school districts around the country, Kingston administrators have recently embraced the new creed of “antiracism,” which holds that America is an irredeemably and systemically racist country. Swains uplifting message—that there are opportunities for African Americans to succeed if they work hard and apply themselves—undermined “antiracist” claims of systemic disadvantage.

The Liberty Justice Center represented Tampone, helping her to push back against the school district’s discrimination. Tampone was connected with the Liberty Justice Center by No Left Turn in Education, a nonprofit organization committed to defending the rights of parents, student and families. NLTE is led by Dr. Elana Fishbein and advocates for the return of critical thinking, not critical theory, to the classroom.

LJC’s letter to Kingston explained that, like all Americans, teachers enjoy a First Amendment right to express their views, even when that speech fails to parrot the ideology of school administrators. Confronted with the threat of legal action, the school district agreed to a settlement, under which Tampone is allowed to resume teaching, with all administrative charges dropped, and the school district will not discipline Tampone for her speech moving forward. This settlement ensures that Tampone can return to the classroom, and to her first priority: serving the students of Kingston.

As defined in a settlement agreement reached on August 5, 2021, between Tampone and Kingston City School District, Ms. Tampone is allowed to return to her classroom this fall with all administrative charges dropped. The district agreed to withdraw all disciplinary charges, remove Tampone from leave, reinstate her to the same teaching positions. Furthermore, the district agreed not to impose sanctions against Tampone’s exercise of citizen speech rights moving forward.


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